String Quartet No.3 in c minor, Op.75
Gretchaninov’s String Quartet No.3 in c minor, Op.75 dates from 1916, during the middle of the First World War and a year before the traumatic Russian Revolution. In the music, one can hear the strife of the period, and yet Gretchaninov still seems somewhat optimistic as there is a victorious resolution, which, of course, did not occur. One hears the chromaticism of the late Romantic idiom. In the first movement, Lento—Allegro moderato, we hear a three note motif in the slow introduction which subsequently becomes of prime importance in the elegant but tense allegro which follows. The second movement, Lento assai, though not designated as such, is a theme and set of variations. The languid theme , marked espresso amoroso, is laden with a smoky chromaticism. In the very first variation, the three note motif is reintroduced. In another variation, we hear vague echoes of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. In the Scherzo that follows, a triplet rhythm dominates proceedings but the three note motif still makes an appearance. It is in the finale, Allegro vivace, that the mood of gloom which has hung over the quartet until now, is finally expelled. The music begins in C Major and the atmosphere is festive.
Moscow born Alexander Gretchaninov (1864-1956) started his musical studies rather late because his father, a businessman, had expected the boy to take over the family firm. Gretchaninov himself related that he did not see a piano until he was 14 and began his studies at the Moscow Conservatory in 1881 against his parents' wishes and without their knowledge. His main teachers there were Arensky and Sergei Taneyev. In the late 1880s, after a quarrel with Arensky, he moved to St. Petersburg where he studied composition and orchestration with Rimsky-Korsakov until 1893. Korsakov immediately recognized Gretchaninov's extraordinary musical imagination and talent, giving him much extra time as well as considerable financial help, which allowed the young man, whose parents were not supporting him, to survive. Out of this came an important friendship, which only ended in 1908 with Rimsky's death. Around 1896, Gretchaninov returned to Moscow and was involved with writing for the theater, the opera, and the Russian Orthodox Church. His works, especially those for voice, achieved considerable success within Russia, while his instrumental works enjoyed even wider acclaim. By 1910, he was considered a composer of such distinction that the Tsar had awarded him an annual pension. Though he remained in Russia for several years after the Revolution, ultimately, he chose to emigrate, first to France in 1925 and then to the U.S. in 1939 where he remained for the rest of his life.
This fine work belongs in any professional quartet's repertoire and is well within the reach of competent amateurs who will certainly enjoy it.